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The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

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Discussion Topic

Kit and Nat's differing perceptions of slavery in The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Summary:

Kit and Nat have contrasting views on slavery in The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Kit, coming from a wealthy background in Barbados, initially sees slavery as a norm. In contrast, Nat, raised in the more egalitarian New England, views slavery negatively and believes in freedom for all individuals.

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How did Kit perceive slavery in The Witch of Blackbird Pond?

Kit grew up where slaves were a way of life, but she is repulsed by the thought of slave ships.

Growing up in Barbados as a member of the upper class, Kit is used to having slaves around to care for her needs.  She was not part of a big family, and never had a mother or siblings to take care of her.  When John asks her about her family, she mentions slaves as if they were a part of every household—because they were.

"Were there no women to care for you?"

"Oh, slaves of course. I had a black nursemaid…” (Ch. 2)

Kit never did any work.  She had slaves to do it.  It was just the way things were done where she came from.  It would never have occurred to her that slavery was wrong or to question it.

However, when Nat tells her that there could be people down in the hold on a slave ship, she is horrified at the very idea.  She has complained about the smell, and he turns on her.

Maybe you think it would smell prettier with a hold full of human bodies, half of them rotting in their chains before anyone knew they were dead!"

Kit recoiled, as much from his angry tone as from the repulsive words. "What are you talking about? People? Down in the hold?"

"I suppose you never knew about slaves on Barbados?"

"Of course I knew. We own-- we used to own more than a hundred. How else could you work a plantation?" (Ch. 2)

Kit asks him if they have slaves in America too, and he says that they do—to their shame.  He is proud of the fact that his ship never carries slaves.  She realizes she had never thought about how the slaves traveled from Africa “at all.”  She doesn't seem to have put much thought into slavery.  She is just as upset from the conversation as from the information.

When she thinks about leaving, she does feel bad about losing “the little African slave who had been her shadow for twelve years” (Ch. 3), because she had to sell her when she moved to America.  This seems to show some affection or attachment to her as a person.  She also resents doing housework, which see feels is “the work of slaves” (Ch. 7).  She is confused by life in the colonies, which includes so much hard work.

The travel to the colonies, and the new life in the colonies, is a culture shock for Kit.  Going from having slaves to doing the work they used to do certainly would be confusing and frustrating.  Kit’s attitudes toward slavery will seem upsetting to us, but for someone in her time period they would be natural and normal.

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Why is Nat judgmental of Kit's view on slavery in The Witch of Blackbird Pond?

While some of this question is up to the subjective opinion of the individual reader, the sequence that contains the brief exchange between Kit and Nat about slavery can be found in chapter 2.

In an earlier part of chapter 2, Kit and John are speaking with each other about Kit's family in Barbados. Kit admits that she didn't have much family in the way of blood relatives, but she had slaves that helped to raise her. This shows readers that Kit has grown up with slavery. She doesn't think it is odd to have slaves.

As the chapter continues, Kit will become frustrated by the ship's slow progress and its confining spaces. She will briefly vent to Nat about the "filthy ship." Nat is very much offended. He loves the ship, and he loves the work that the ship does. Kit doesn't like the smell of the hold with all of the animals, and Nat gives a retort about Kit preferring the smell of dead, rotting human bodies in the hold.

Kit is appalled at the idea, and Nat considers that maybe she doesn't know about slavery. Kit responds by admitting that she had hundreds of slaves in Barbados, but it is clear that she never gave it a thought as to how those slaves got there. Nat defends his family's choice to never transport slaves. He believes that it is a disgusting practice, and Nat passes partial judgement on Kit for perpetuating slavery due to the fact that she had slaves and doesn't really see it as a problem.

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